In the last 12 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the majority of office workers navigating working from home for the very first time. We’ve been camped out in spare rooms, bedrooms and kitchen tables , trying to juggle an endless amount of video calls, emails and projects. During Lockdown when the world seemed to stop, for many of us, life became busier than ever.
Work has been relentless as many industries have experienced a rapid move to a more online approach to support their businesses. Innovations that should have been gradually adopted over a period of years have had to be rolled out in months and weeks. Businesses that were already in the online arena have had a surge in growth and clients requiring their services.
The upshot is that many of us have been working more than ever before. Trying to fit everything in has become a bit of a nightmare. We probably have double the amount of video calls than we would meetings in the office, more projects to deliver over a shorter period of time and people seem to have forgotten how to use a telephone so they just email….Constantly!
The consequences for those of us on the other end of the laptop are that we’ve forgotten what a work/life balance actually looks like. We feel the responsibility of our workload more than ever before because we have nothing else going on. It’s all too easy for us to carry on working past 5:30 and long into the evening. We’ve substituted our commute with staying ‘logged on’ for longer to catch up with all of the work we couldn’t do during the day because we were on endless video calls and we have more work than ever to get through. It’s all consuming and exhausting.
It’s not healthy and it’s not right. Businesses don’t expect this from us when we are in the office so why are we doing it to ourselves now? It’s time to re-establish those boundaries. Just because we’re working from home, it does not mean that work has the right to take over our lives. We need a healthy work/life balance to function so here are some top tips for how to get back on track and reclaim your downtime. Remember – jobs are replaceable but your physical and mental health are not.
Establish a Morning Routine
Are you one of those people who drags themselves out of bed each morning, throws on some sweats, makes a coffee and then logs straight on to check their emails? Stop it! This isn’t healthy or productive and definitely won’t help you re-establish a good work/life balance. Instead, try starting your day with something at home that you enjoy. How about having breakfast with your partner? Or going for that morning walk that you keep putting off?
If you wake up thinking about work, remember that whatever seems so urgent can generally wait. Start the day with something you enjoy doing and you’ll start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind, content in the knowledge that you have done something for yourself before the working day has begun.
Keep Your ‘Home Office’ Separate
Make sure that you have a dedicated working space at home, away from your everyday life. What do I mean by this? I mean that if you have a spare room, then set yourself up in there. Your home office should only be used for work. It’s a place for you to have peace and quiet so that you can focus on the tasks at hand.
If you don’t have a spare room then designate a corner of a room. Invest in a desk and maybe even a screen. Ideally, you want an area that is yours and yours alone. At the end of the working day, you want to be able to shut the door on it or cover it up in some way so that work does not invade the rest of your living space.
Manage Your Time
Establishing a good work/life balance whilst working from home is all about using your time effectively to get the most out of your day. Prioritise 3 realistic tasks that you feel you can accomplish in the day and set out to do those tasks first. Video calls and emails will undoubtedly interfere with any kind of rigid planning so it’s important to build some flex into your schedule wherever you can.
By highlighting 3 important tasks to complete in the day, you’re making things far more manageable for yourself and will feel a sense of achievement once they are completed, no matter the size of your overall ‘To-Do’ list. As for everything else? Remember, if no one is chasing you for it, then it can probably wait until tomorrow.
Take a Lunch Break
Having a lunch break is one of the most important steps in re-establishing your work/life balance. It’s far too easy to go and grab a sandwich and eat lunch at your desk whilst answering emails. Instead, block out an hour a day in your calendar, get away from your desk and take advantage of being able to make lunch for yourself at home. It will give you something to look forward to every day.
Get creative and make yourself something good to eat. Take some time to read a couple of pages of that book by your bedside table. Go for a walk outside. Watch some television. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you have your lunch hour. Without it, your day will just feel unending and you’ll end up feeling drained and tired.
Make Working at Home Work For You
I’ve known many people who successfully enjoyed working from home before the pandemic. They all used to go on about how great it was that you were able to stick your washing on during the day and could fit a few household chores in here and there as well. Personally, I’ve been so busy that I’ve managed to do that maybe twice in the last 12 months and now I feel like a fool.
Make the most of your day. You are working but you’re also working from home. There is nothing wrong with taking a 10 minute break to whip the hoover round the lounge. There is no reason why you can’t take a break in the afternoon and sort out tonight’s dinner. You don’t need to feel guilty about it, just don’t take the piss. It’s called a work/life ‘balance’ for a reason.
Set Your ‘End of Day’
Establish a cut-off for your day. You and I both know that if you’ve not been finishing at 5:30pm for the last 12 months then you’re probably not going to start now. Pick a time to finish your work day where you can feel comfortable that you have got as much as you can done. Stick to that time. Write it on a big post-it note and stick it above your laptop. Set an alarm on your phone. Get your partner to come into your home working area and drag you out by the scruff of your neck. Finish at that SAME TIME EVERY DAY.
Plan After-Work Activities
We know we’re in a pandemic and there are not a lot of things to do right now but that does not mean that you can’t still plan some fun activities to look forward to after work. Schedule some time in each day that’s just for you – have a luxurious bubble bath, make that banana bread, spend an hour on your hobby, take the dog for a walk, talk to your friends and family on the phone.
Plan some post-work time for yourself every day. We all need that post-work downtime to destress and refocus ourselves before we go back to spending time with our loved ones at home. Without that normal commuting time to unwind, we can often close the office door and still be thinking about that last meeting whilst we’re busy cooking dinner. Don’t. Take the time you need to unwind so that stress does not invade your personal space.
Don’t Look at Work Emails After Hours
Don’t do it. It’s so easy…. your phone is right there, your laptop is only next door, it’ll just take two minutes…. STOP. Yes, you can look at that email at 9pm and yes, you can respond to it. What good is it going to do? If it’s not urgent then you have just let work into your personal time. No one is going to thank you for it. In fact, it could probably have waited until the morning couldn’t it?
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Maintaining a work/life balance whilst working from home is not easy, especially if you’re a naturally helpful person. You feel obliged to put more hours in when you don’t actually need to because you want to help. We get that. But it’s not good for you. Working a bit longer now and then is going to happen, we know, but try not to make it a regular habit.
Your home is your safe space and if you’re going from bed to laptop to sofa to bed every day of the week, with the hour that you’re logging off getting later and later then eventually your work will consume you and you’ll be on a one way train to Burn-out City. Be kinder to yourself and realistic with your time. When it comes to your job, you’re probably very good at it but have no doubt that you are replaceable. Everyone is. So don’t burn yourself out trying to do too much. Get your boundaries back in place and take back your time.
We hope that like us, you’re well on your way to re-establishing some boundaries with your work commitments. Be great at your job but don’t let your job take over your life. Everyone deserves to have some downtime so make sure that you get your balance back and start enjoying all aspects of your life again.